Madame de… (1952)

A talky rich-person drama with lots of fainting – not usually my thing. Of course it’s sumptuously shot, and I got caught up in the drama by the end.

The earrings of Madame:

Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux, costars of Mayerling seventeen years earlier, are an upper-class married couple (she also played a married cheater in La Ronde, and I know Boyer from Stavisky twenty years later and Liliom twenty years earlier). He’s a general and a count, and she’s a socialite, secretly running up debts, so she sells a pair of diamond earrings, a gift from her husband.

Boyer in bed:

After she claims to have lost her earrings there’s a blow-up about possible theft at the theater, so the jeweler (Jean Debucourt of The Eagle Has Two Heads) contacts the general, tells him the story, and Boyer buys them back, gives them as a parting gift to his affair Lola. She immediately gambles them away and they’re bought by Baron Vittorio De Sica (the year after he shot Umberto D, six years before Il Generale della Rovere), who sees Madame Darrieux then stalks her at every party until she falls in love with him.

He eventually gives her the earrings, and she claims to have found the lost earrings – a sign to her husband of her extramarital affair, and a reminder of his. Feelings are hurt, honor is challenged, a duel is arranged – she gives away the earrings to a church before fainting to death as her husband shoots Baron Vittorio off-camera.

Ophuls’s second-to-last film, after Le Plaisir. Written by Louise de Vilmorin, who would adapt other writers’ stories into screenplays on The Immortal Story on Malle’s The Lovers.

M. Haskell:

[Madame de…], beginning in the lilting superficiality of a frivolous woman looking to pawn her jewels and ending in death and the ironic sanctification of those jewels, is Ophuls at his bleakest and most beautiful. The very opulence and swirl of the world from which Madame de is ostracizing herself — the opera, the gowns, the balls, the jewels, the servants — will be stripped away as love burns through the outer layers of life. A woman is rescued from shallowness and inauthenticity, but at what a price!

The Reckless Moment (1949)

The last of his quartet of Hollywood films (nobody ever talks about the Douglas Fairbanks period drama The Exile). Ophuls’ attempts at style and elegance are mostly lost here, trampled by the silly thriller plot of this cheapie noir.

Best part is Joan Bennett (star of four Fritz Lang films in the 40’s) who goes to ever-lower depths to protect her foolish young daughter who’s been going out with a sleazeball (Shepperd Strudwick, who’d once starred as Edgar Allen Poe). Joan drives from her idyllic small lake town into the big scary city to tell the guy to piss off, but he comes by the house that night, falling to his death onto an anchor after the girl whacks him on the head with a flashlight. Great, wordless scene follows as Joan discovers the body the next morning then dumps it in the lake.

So the cops have found the body and suddenly irish-accented James Mason (returning from Ophuls’s Caught six months earlier) shows up to blackmail Joan over the dead guy. She tries to raise the cash, but with her husband out of town can’t manage it. Fortunately, unbelievably, Mason falls for her and tries to protect her from his partner who still wants the money (Mason is a terrible blackmailer). They nearly kill each other and Mason stages a car crash to get Joan off the hook.

Mason in the shadows:

Since it’s a 1940’s movie the family has a black housekeeper, Cybil, who once says an entire line fully on-camera that got erased by the music score. Wonder what it was. Joan’s daughter mostly pouts in her room while Joan’s insufferably hollywood-youth-talkin’ son putters with his jalopy.

Based on a story for Ladies Home Journal, naturally. Remade with Tilda Swinton in 2001.

First some context from the always-reliable Tag. By 1958/59, Rossellini “hated commercial cinema with a vengeance,” but was broke as usual, so “was selling himself to a producer for a project that wasn’t his own.” Films about the Italian government’s WWII collaboration with nazis had been forbidden for years, and as this ban was lifted, Rossellini shared the golden lion at Venice with Mario Monicelli (The Great War) for breaking taboos. So, sucked back into a system he hated, he ended up with his biggest success since Open City.

Adapting the true story about a fake leader of the anti-fascist resistance planted in a political prison to try and ferret out the real resistance leaders, Rossellini was assigned fellow neorealist director Vittorio de Sica as a lead actor. And he’s excellent, I thought, but Tag says R.R. considered VdS a ham, and utilized tricks to make him tone down his huge performance. Either way, it’s an engrossing movie about sordid wartime subjects.

De Sica is Bardone aka Grimaldi, a local during the occupation who meets nazi Colonel Muller (Hannes Messemer, POW camp commandant in The Great Escape) on the street and gives him directions, then proceeds to his usual past time, which is scamming his countrymen whose relatives are in jail, collecting gifts to pass on to the imprisoned, and money for their release, then gambling it away. His girl Valeria (Sandra Milo of Juliet of the Spirits and 8 1/2) leaves him, and while looking for a sucker to buy some fake jewelry, he visits Olga (Giovanna Ralli, star of RR’s follow-up Escape By Night), an ex working in a brothel.

Valeria:

Olga:

Meanwhile, in a botched capture attempt, General Della Rovere of the partisan underground is killed. And Bardone is arrested, turned in by a girl he was trying to scam (Anne Vernon, Deneuve’s mom in Umbrellas of Cherbourg), promising to free her husband who had already been executed. Bardone pleads his case passionately, saying he’s providing a great service to the locals by providing false hope in a hopeless time, and Col. Muller gets an idea.

Anne Vernon:

The second half of the movie is traitorous Bardone doing time in a political prison, trying to identify captured leaders of the underground so they can be tortured for information. But Bardone spends enough time faking that he’s General Della Rovere that he starts to believe it, taking to heart the letters he receives from Rovere’s wife. “When you don’t know which path to take, choose the hardest one.”

His new friend Banchelli the barber (Vittorio Caprioli, plant manager in Tout va bien) is tortured to death, and Rovere is tortured as well, as Muller gets tired of waiting for results. In the end, Bardone/Rovere meets the leader of the resistance, but goes voluntarily to the firing squad without divulging the secret, a patriot at last. Yeah, it’s a bit melodramatic.

Banchelli:

Film Quarterly said the first section, before Bardone is arrested, was “much too long.” This may be true if you’ve read the true story, or are expecting a prison movie. But I thought it was perfectly timed out, because we get to know him before prison, see what a scoundrel he is, and how he deals with friends and strangers. Then his turn in prison from early nervousness to pride in his (false) position of honor to partisan has more meaning.